It was a very early start on Saturday March 21st 2015. I woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head and drove 85 kilometres ...

The day Soulac-sur-Mer's Le Signal residence became a work of art

It was a very early start on Saturday March 21st 2015. I woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head and drove 85 kilometres from my home near Bordeaux to Soulac-sur-Mer, with the sole aim of being on the ocean-front at 5:15AM to view a one-off son et lumière performance that made use of the façade of a doomed apartment block, Le Signal.

Le Signal has long been an angular eyesore for some, but was a much-loved home and holiday residence for others and was initially set to be just the first of a number of such buildings in Soulac. Importantly, when it was built, between 1965 and 1970, the ocean was a good 200 metres away. But over the ensuing years, the Atlantic has literally gained ground on this lone apartment block, at a rate of between four and eight metres per year.

The ocean has caught up with Le Signal.
Le Signal therefore now perches precariously at the water’s edge, and after the violent winds and harsh tides of early 2014, the Atlantic was officially declared the winner and residents were hurriedly evicted from the premises. Since then, the residence has fallen into a state of disrepair, becoming a haunt for squatters, looters and vandals, and the co-owners – some of whom are still paying off the mortgages which enabled them to acquire their rooms with a sea-view – have since entered into a long and painful battle for compensation from local authorities and the French State. 

The hostile urbex wasteland that Le Signal has now become.
At the time of writing, five co-owners have even begun a hunger strike [update: it eventually ceased 12 days later to no avail] to raise awareness of their plight and in the hope of obtaining more than what is currently being offered, which amounts to around €20,000 per apartment. Meanwhile, the building itself is facing the inevitable prospect of being demolished – if it doesn’t simply collapse of its own accord first. That, then, is the background to the setting for the installation, which momentarily turned the derelict building into a dynamic work of art.

The early-morning event was the brainchild of the Bordeaux-based visual artist Olivier Crouzel and author Sophie Poirier, and was six months in the making. The pair braved the no entry signs to passively observe and experience the empty residence from the inside, enabling the artists to develop a profound understanding of what Le Signal represented to those who lived and holidayed there.

The end-product was an eleven-minute loop of video footage of views from the windows of the building, looking both inland and across to the ocean, accompanied by Poirier’s haunting and poignant text, entitled “46 fois l’été” (Summer x46). The text is a meandering wander from apartment to apartment, focusing on details and speculating on the life which once went on between the walls of Le Signal, from a child counting the waves for hours on end to the constant influx of sand in the staircases.

Here is a short video excerpt, to give you a feel of the installation:

Throughout the hour-long installation, which had been timed to coincide with the high watermark of the so-called “tide of the century”, the residence was temporarily brought back to life and the words and pictures managed to capture the mood of the place as it was, and the sense of loss when compared with what it has become. As a viewer, it was a little like attending the funeral of a stranger and instantly becoming familiar with the life of the deceased.

I feel very privileged to be among the 150-or-so spectators who had set their alarm clock at an unearthly hour to witness this moving tribute to Soulac’s great unloved residence. The artists shone a much-needed beam of light not only on Le Signal but also indirectly on its residents, and the struggle they face now that the earth has crumbled beneath their feet.

The graffiti which was one of the leitmotivs throughout the installation.


  1. Oh my! I wish I could have been there -- thank you so much for describing this so eloquently and providing some background history. We visited Soulac-sur-Mer a couple of years ago and thought it was so beautiful -- and we heard stories afterward about about a cathedral that had been found under sand that centuries had sifted on top of it. Living right at the seaside ourselves (my husband and I live on a NW Pacific island, off the coast of Canada), I can't help but be sympathetic to those who would have lost not only their investment but also a beloved summer place.

    1. Further Soulac stories will be coming soon on the blog, so watch this space!

      Thanks for the feedback and you can monitor developments at Le Signal on, which regularly publishes news about the apartment block and its former residents.